World Building - Do you do it?
How many of authors think they build worlds when they
sit down to write a manuscript? I hear people all the
time say they don’t world build when they write a story,
that world building is only used for science fiction,
paranormal, or historical manuscripts – and I can see
why. Plug world building into a search engine and
you'll come up with all types of sites that tell you how to
build a ‘fantasy’ world.
But the truth is that if you write, you build a world; you just may not
realize it. World building is nothing more than a TOOL writers use.
Every time an author sets a scene, an author describes something to give
the reader a mental picture – the author is building a world for the
reader to set the characters in.
The best thing about world building is that if you use it right, you show
your reader what your characters are like without telling. It doesn’t take
a lot, a sentence blended here and there will make the reader relate to the
character, will put the reader in the characters shoes, and make the whole
story more alive than simply reading words on paper.
Now there is no way I can cover world building completely in one article.
And undoubtedly you’ll find a source that will tell you to do it a
different way. What I’m covering here are the basics, what I do to build
my world, and just pointing out a few things that you can use. Research
it and find a method that works for you.
Why do world building?
World building can be as intimidating as you let it be. Just remember, it’
s nothing more than a tool, a tool writers can use to show a story to the
reader, instead of telling. Think of it like this: you are building a movie
set for your scene. Using the surroundings, you develop mental pictures in
the readers mind that helps ground them. This causes the reader to think
and captures their interested.
World building is a tool you can use to expose your character to the
reader. Describing the setting from your characters POV will expose more
about your character and can reveal a lot about your character by either
using the environment they surround themselves with or how they react to
an environment without telling.
World building can also add conflict.
If your characters have to fight a
raging flood to get across town, this
will cause tension and force them to
work together to accomplish their goal.
It can also give your characters props
to solve/cause their conflict.
How do you build a world?
Every one has a different way of approaching this. Some outline
everything first, some figure out it out as they go, and some do something
in between. Find the best way that works for you.
I’m in the second category. Still, building my world is actually my fourth
step when I sit down to write a story.
First, I decide what kind of book I’m writing. The genera will tell me
what type of world I’m dealing with and how much research I have to do
before I can start writing. Second, I have to know who my characters are
so I know either how to build the sets or how they will react once placed
there. Third, I look at my plot. What is going to happen? What are my
goals? Where is my story located?
Once I know all this, I know what to make my background look like.
Remember, you’re building a set as a tool to further your
plot/character/story. Without this knowledge, it won’t work.
Actual World Building
Step 1 - Establish your time line for the book as a whole
The year your story is set in will reveal technology, phrases, etc. that the
hero/heroine will use. The time of year will also let you know what is
happening around them. Are the trees blooming? If so, what is the
Step 2 – Build your scene
Wither you do this as you go, or come back as I do, picture yourself looking
through your hero/heroine’s eyes. You all ready know the purpose of the
scene; already know where you want the hero/heroine to go, now you just
have to make it real. Use all 5 senses to put the reader in your characters
shoes. All of these can pull a reader in by reminding them of an
experience in their past, etc.
Sight is a very powerful tool to describe
the setting. It lets your reader see
through your characters POV and how
they describe things reveals things
about your character. The time of day
could cast shadows or make it
completely dark. Is there any action
relative to the plot/scene they need to
see? An accident, a school, etc. Blend
it into the surroundings. You know the time of year, so you can add
vegetation or animals, just make sure you don’t have tulips blooming in
December unless they are meant to. The setting can also imply a mood.
Are they walking through a cemetery at night? Strolling arm in arm with
someone they love? In each situation, the hero/heroine would notice
something different, which would add tension or emotion.
Smells such as blood, offensive odors, etc., can tie someone into a bad
situation, just as flowers or the smell of baking cookies can remind them
of something good.
Sounds are a great way to explain the emotions your hero/heroine is
feeling. A scream, squeal of tires, or thundering hoof beats can give a
sense of urgency. The sound of children playing would imply everything
is normal and relaxed. Silence can be either calming or loud, depending
on how your hero/heroine perceives it.
Taste is something that I don’t see a lot of. I’ll see a writer take up a whole
paragraph, maybe half a page describing what a hero/heroine is eating,
and then never show the reader what it tastes like, which is sad because
it can be very useful. Food tastes different in different regions. The first
time I went to Chicago and ordered a hot dog, I was shocked to find
tomatoes, celery salt, and a pepper on it – and it was good! Seafood
generally tastes better on the coasts. Explore this. You don’t have to use it
often, or at all, but it is a tool that can show a difference that the
character isn’t use to.
What your character feels can also set a mood or setting. Is it raining? If
it is, they’d be miserable if they forgot their umbrella – neither of which
you have to say. Show the reader instead. Write about their wet jeans
and most people will know what you are talking about!
Step 3 – Reveal your character through props
You can show little details about your character without telling with
props – just like in a movie. Look around at your friends, at you. What
traits do you or they have that you want your character to have? What
makes that trait stand out?
There are all kinds of things you can reveal about your character by
things in their house. Take the refrigerator for instance. To me, this is
one of the most revealing things in a house. Now, I’m still single and
dating, so I’ve seen a few bachelors’ houses in the past years. Believe it or
not, with the odd exception, most usually have a case of beer in the fridge,
tons of condiments, and at least one take out container that may or may
not have eatable food in it.
My own refrigerator rarely has fresh produce in it since I travel a lot. But
you’ll usually find a case of pop, condiments, beer, and a package of
bologna. Half the time my bread is moldy, but my freezer is stocked with
TV dinners, frozen vegetables, meats, and ice cream with ½ an inch of ice
My friend, who loves to cook, has things in her cabinets I’ve never even
heard of. When I manage to get a recipe from her, no doubt I’ll have to go
to the store and buy several things I never knew existed, let alone own. I
now have five different types of vinegar in my kitchen cabinets, when
before, I had none.
Furniture is another way to let the reader know more about your character
without telling. Is their home decorated casually or more modern? Is
there an afghan thrown over a couch? Are there pictures on the walls? If
so, what type?
Again, most single males I know have bare walls – maybe one or two
posters or pictures of family. I have one male friend who bought a house 5
years ago. The entertainment room is completely furnished. The dining
room is empty and he just bought a kitchen table last year. The girls and
I pitched in to get his guest bathroom a set with towels because we were
sick of not having anything to dry our hands off with. My single female
friends usually have more pictures of family on display, artwork, etc.
Families will have pictures of kids, group things, etc.
Usually there is more than one clock in a
house. Are all of them set at the same time?
Or are they all set early because they hate to
be late? Maybe they all have different times.
How well organized are your characters?
Organization can reveal all kinds of things
about your character. Are they controlling?
Obsessive compulsive? Or just don’t care?
Do they have a snow globe collection? Do they
have plants? Are they still alive? All of this
reveals something about your character
without telling the reader.
Another fun thing to use is your characters appearance. Clothes reveal a
lot about a person, especially shoes. Sandals usually indicate a more
relaxed situation or style than high heels or steel toes. Hiking boots,
especially several of them, indicate a very active person. Tennis
shoes will do the same, but it indicates a different TYPE of activity. You
can also show that a person has health issues or is health conscious with
shoes. Bad legs, diabetes, those shoes that tone as you walk – they make
shoes for a lot of things now.
Jean are usually casual, though a lot of businesses are letting employees
wear them on causal Fridays now. Suits mean professional. Formal wear
is for a special event. Use this to describe a general attitude or event. Is
their hair short or long? If you have long hair, think about when and
why you put it in a ponytail. Your heroine would have the same (or
maybe different) reason for doing the same action. Or maybe your
character has short hair, why?
Do they own a vehicle? What kind? On a piece of paper write down the
following: Harley vs Rocket, then write down underneath what you think
when you see both. The list will be different. Now, do the same with a
minivan compared to a Camry. A truck compared to a Mini Cooper. The
difference doesn’t have to be dramatic as these, but we each buy vehicles
that fit our life styles. We are drawn to things we like. Would your
character be any different? What attracted them to that vehicle? Does the
vehicle match the personal people will relate to it?
Pets can be very revealing. I dated a guy once that had an American
Bulldog because while he wanted a dog, he was big guy and wanted
something he didn’t have to worry about rolling over in the middle of the
night and killing it. This is something I never would have thought of.
Do they have a protection dog? Is it trained – at all? Is it a yippy yappy
dog? Or maybe they have a cat. Maybe with one eye because they have a
soft heart and adopt the ones others don’t want.
Any and everything in your setting can be used to build your world. It
can expand it, make it more real to the reader, pull them in and capture
their interest without a lot of work.
Now, let me ask you again. When you sit down to write, do you use world
building as a tool?
|Looking for love and stepping into everything else